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How to Cook Greens

Types of Greens, Recipes, Cooking Tips

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Updated October 12, 2013

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Kale and Red Onions

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Kale and Red Onions

Heather Winters/Getty Images

(Find out About Nutrition and Benefits of Greens)

Types of Greens

I think of greens as divided into three groups, depending on how much cooking they require.

Salad Greens

Obviously, salad greens are usually eaten raw. In general, the darker the color, the more nutritious. Iceberg lettuce, for example, is extremely low in nutrients compared with its more colorful relatives - romaine lettuce has 8 times the vitamin A and 6 times the vitamin C as iceberg lettuce. When you have a choice, a variety of greens is always best, as each has its own constellation of nutrients.

The best salad dressings have healthful oils such as olive oil (olive oil is probably the best, because it has many nutritional benefits). Soy and corn oil have a lot of omega-6 oil, and it is best to steer away from them for the most part, as many nutrition experts feel we consume too much omega-6 fat. Mayonnaise is made mainly from oil, so check the type of oil before you buy, as most are soy oil based. For most cooking uses, try to buy oils which are mostly monounsaturated fat rather than polyunsaturated (check the labels). More About Healthy Salad Dressings

It's easy to make your own dressing right in the bowl. Start with vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice - add salt, pepper and seasonings as desired, and whisk in some oil (about three times the oil as vinegar). Example: Sweet and Sour Lime Dressing Then add the salad greens and toss to coat.

Quick-Cooking Greens

These greens can either be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Spinach is the most obvious example of this category. It takes only seconds to cook a young tender spinach leaf. A benefit to cooked greens is that they shrink so much that you can more easily get lots of nutrition from them. Six cups of raw greens become approximately one cup of cooked greens.

Most quick-cooking greens take just a few minutes to cook. Chard (Swiss chard) is a quick-cooking green, and also can be eaten raw, though it isn't usually. Chard is now available in many colors, which are often milder-tasting than the more traditional Swiss chard. The stems can be cooked along with the leaves, or eaten raw, for example, you can put them in tuna salad instead of celery. If you haven't tried chard, you really should - you may be surprised! Chard and the more familiar spinach are good places to start with cooked greens, as they are so easy, and not as bitter as some others.

Beet greens are also quick-cooking (and delicious), and are actually related to chard and spinach. Escarole, dandelion greens, and sorrel are also relatively quick-cooking greens.

Cabbage isn't very leafy, but I think of it in this category as well, even though it is related to the heartier greens kale and collards.

Check out this Video for Cooking Spinach with Lemon and Garlic

Hearty Greens

People have been getting over their resistance to hearty greens such as kale and collard greens (at least outside the U.S. South), and that's a very good thing! I encourage you to give them a try, as they have the most nutritional benefits of all. Over time, they may even become favorites.

Kale and collard greens are the most common examples of hearty greens. They do require cooking, although not as much as many people think. Yes, you can cook collards for an hour, but if you cut the greens from the fibrous stems they can be tender in 10-15 minutes. I also like kale cooked about that amount of time.

How to Wash Greens

The easiest way to wash greens is to put them into a lot of water and swish them around. The dirt sinks to the bottom that way. I use a large pot with an insert to drain pasta. I swish the greens, remove the insert and shake, and then let dry for a few minutes before storing.

How to Store Greens

Ideally, the greens should be dry or almost dry, and stored in a bag with as much of the air pushed out as you easily can. I like to put a barely damp paper towel in for just the right amount of moisture. Then, put them in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.

How to Cook Greens

Greens can be braised (cooked fairly slowly in a small amount of liquid, usually a flavorful stock) or sautéed (cooked quickly in a small amount of oil). They can also be steamed or boiled, but most people like to add some other flavors which go well with greens (see below), and this is easier with braising or sautéing.

Another way to make greens is to bake them with cheese gratin-style or with eggs and cheese, such as this Spinach Casserole.

Greens can also be thrown into almost any soup or skillet dish, especially the milder-tasting greens such as chard.

Flavors Which Go Well With Greens

When you read recipes for greens, certain ingredients emerge again and again, because they go so well with greens. Any combination of these will usually be a winner:
  • Smoked meats, including bacon, sausage, prosciutto, and smoked turkey (smoked paprika or chipotle can also provide the smokey flavors)
  • Garlic
  • Lemon or vinegar
  • Hot chiles in some form (dried pepper flakes, hot sauce, etc.)
  • Anchovies (I'm not kidding, you can't taste fish, but they really make a difference)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Dairy - Cream and/or cheese

How to you like your greens? Tell us in our Low Carb Forum.

Greens Recipes

Here are some recipes to try.

Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

Simply Scrumptious Spinach

Low Carb Cole Slaw

Southern-Style Greens from Diana Rattray, About.com Guide to Southern Cooking

Easy Blue Cheese Dressing

Sweet and Sour Lime Dressing Cranberry Vinaigrette

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